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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 00:45 GMT

World: Europe

Prague marks Velvet Revolution

Old friends: Mikhail Gorbachev is decorated by Vaclav Havel

Czech President Vaclav Havel has marked the 10th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and the end of communism with a call for continued vigilance against abuses of freedom and human rights around the world.

Communism - the end of an era
He was speaking at celebrations in Prague Castle attended by the last leaders of the Cold War era.

President Havel said: "This one small battle was won, but the war goes on."

He also acknowledged the difficulties of emerging democracies in transition from communism.

He said: "It is our duty to articulate this experience. We owe it to the world.

"All these day-to day troubles, which often make us feel hopelessly vexed, are but negligible trifles in comparison with the historic significance of the fall of communism in the world."

The BBC's Ray Furlong reports on the festivities at Prague Castle
President Havel awarded the Order of the White Lion, the Czech Republic's highest honour, to former US President George Bush.

Praise for Havel and Walesa

The same honour was bestowed on six others, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, ex-UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Lech Walesa, whose independent Solidarity union chipped away at Poland's communist regime, aiding its fall.

President Bush praised President Havel and Mr Walesa for their roles in the revolution.

"There are still heroes in this world, and I believe they helped our countries to do the right thing," said President Bush.

Truth and love

[ image: Candles were placed at the spot where the Velvet Revolution began]
Candles were placed at the spot where the Velvet Revolution began
It is 10 years since a police crackdown, which came a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall, prompted hundreds of thousands of Czechs to pour into the centre of Prague to demand democracy.

The demonstrations were copied in towns throughout the country, forcing hardline Communist General Secretary Milos Jakes to resign within a week. The Communist regime collapsed shortly afterwards.

On Prague's Narodni Trida on Wednesday, where the first demonstrators gathered, Czechs quietly laid flowers and candles at a small memorial to the students' peaceful resistance.

The BBC's Rob Broomby: ''A police crackdown kickstarted the revolution''
Later, hundreds of students retraced the steps of 1989 in the same icy conditions as the night of the protest, recalling the slogan which became the mantra of the revolution: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred."

Economic woes

Czechs are greeting the anniversary with mixed feelings amid an economic downturn.

A new poll on Tuesday showed only 35% thought their lives were better than in 1989, while 29% said they were worse.

[ image: Vaclav Havel lays flowers at the site of the crackdown 10 years ago]
Vaclav Havel lays flowers at the site of the crackdown 10 years ago
Correspondents say the celebrations will be marked by a sense of irony. Aside from the award ceremonies and concerts, there will be recreations of pre-1989 life in Prague.

Actors dressed as communist-era police will approach citizens demanding to see their documents and know their intentions.

Citizens will also be able to apply at a booth on Wenceslas Square for special permission to travel to the West, something obtained only with great difficulty before the revolution.

On Saturday, Czech Television will wallow in nostalgia with a prime time speech by the old Communist leader Milos Jakes. Programme pauses with a camera set on wallpaper will fill voids in the schedule.

Slovak hopes

In Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia which split peacefully from the Czechs in 1993, events were more subdued.

Slovak Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky - a dissident leader at the time of the Velvet Revolution - said that the Slovak people could be proud of what they had achieved in the 10 years since the fall of Communism.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt: "TIme will heal all wounds"
Addressing a crowd of about 5,000 people in Bratislava's Slovak National Uprising Square, he said: "The fall of Communism was the greatest event of the 20th Century. We can be proud to have helped topple Communism."

He said that although people now realised it would be much more difficult to close the economic gap with the West than it had first seemed, it was still important to look forward.

"The road back is impossible, we must continue," said Mr Carnogursky.

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